YALE WORKING GROUP
AI, NANOTECH, AND TRANSHUMANISM:
ETHICS, TECHNOLOGY, AND UTOPIAN VISIONS
Nick Bostrom and
human desire to transcend bodily and mental limitations is deeply
intertwined with a human fascination with anthropomorphic animals and
machines. Writings from as far back as ancient Sumeria and ancient
Greece through the Computer Age point to the dynamic interactions
between humans and non-humans. In the 20th century, this relationship
was articulated into a profound tension between human identity and the
promise - or threat - of scientific discovery.
Today the potential ramifications of
state-of-the-art technologies (such as artificial intelligence,
nanotechnology, genetic engineering and genomics, and cryonics) still
are both inspiring and frightening. How these technologies are used
could fundamentally change the ways in which our society functions, and
raises crucial questions about our identities and moral status as human
beings. The "Ethics, Technology and Utopian Visions" Working
Research Group aims to explore the moral implications of using
technologies that are currently available in our society as well as
those that may come to bear on scientific, political, social, and moral
debate in the future.
Molecular nanotechnology is one example of
a new technology for which moral implications are relatively unaddressed.
Nanotech could be used to create agents to control organic processes at
cellular and molecular levels. In another compelling example, genetic
engineering has the power to select specific phenotype traits in
embryos, generate some forms of human tissues, and code for aspects of
cellular behavior; its potential applications range broadly, from coding
of pharmaceutical agents specific to a person's genomic type to
synthesis of new organisms or even human cloning. Similarly,
developments in artificial intelligence and wearable computers blur the
definitions both of "intelligence" and of what it means to be
human. Combinations of technologies could facilitate diverse outcomes,
such as creation of cyborgs (part-biological and part-technological
beings) or the nanotechnological disposal of pollutants or curing of
Though the outcomes epitomized in science fiction literature may or may
not come to fruition, the fact remains that extant and potential
scientific discoveries and technologies deserve and require intensive
ethical explorations. Just as some of these developments are at the
interstices of multiple scientific fields, we must explore the their
ethical ramifications so that we may assess how individuals, society,
and the world will most benefit from these advances.
The proposed working research group will study the capabilities of current
and anticipated future technologies, with a focus on ethical issues that
their use may engender. This exploration seeks to (1) facilitate a clear
understanding of current social and policy questions; (2) begin to lay
the framework for a moral, ideological, political and social analysis of
potential new technologies; and (3) identify questions for future study.
As indicated previously, the working research group on "Ethics,
Technology, and Utopian Visions" seeks to:
facilitate a clear understanding of current personal, social, and
policy questions related to new technologies;
begin to lay the framework for a moral, ideological, political
and social analysis of potential new technologies; and
identify questions for further exploration.
The overarching goal of this working research group is to bring
together a diverse population of academic and professional experts on
issues that relate, either directly or indirectly, to the scientific,
social, and ethical implications of new technologies. Possible outcomes
from this group might include a written document, a published article or
book, a symposium, policy recommendations, or guidelines for evaluating
ethical implications of new technologies. This group will seek to
explore the themes of what it means to be human, what our technological
knowledge can and might be able to contribute to the human condition,
and what an understanding of the ethical questions surrounding the new
technologies has to offer to both human identity and the world in which
we now live.
Nick Bostrom, PhD, is a
Lecturer at the Department of Philosophy, Yale University
Bostrom's research interests spans multiple disciplines. He has been
doing work in the foundations of probability theory and has developed
the first mathematically explicit theory of observation selection
effects (Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and
Philosophy, Routledge, New York, 2002). This award-winning piece of
work has important applications in cosmology, evolution theory, game
theory, traffic analysis, and other fields. Bostrom is also a leading
light in transhumanism, the study of how anticipated technologies (such
as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence) can be used to overcome
some of our current biological limitations. He has written extensively
on this and related topics in ethics and technology policy. He is a
co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association, and he appears
frequently as a commentator on technological developments in television
and in other media.
addition to his work in philosophy of science and ethics, Dr. Bostrom
has published refereed papers in computational neuroscience and in
physics. He obtained his PhD from the London School of Economics in July
2000. For further information, please visit his homepage at http://www.nickbostrom.com.
Bonnie Kaplan, PhD, is a
Lecturer at the Yale Center for Medical Informatics and a member of Yale
University's Interdisciplinary Bioethics Project, a Senior Scientist at
Boston University's Medical Information Systems Unit, and President of
Kaplan is an authority on people's reactions to new technologies in
health care and the author of more than 45 refereed papers and invited
papers as well as numerous other articles and publications. Her
contributions have been recognized by her appointment as chair of the
International Medical Informatics Association Working Group on
Organizational and Social Issues, her recipient of the President's Award
of the American Medical Informatics Association, and her election as a
Fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics.
Dr. Kaplan has
taught a variety of information systems courses in business
administration and hospital administration programs at several
universities. She holds a PhD in History, with a specialization in
History of Science, from the University of Chicago. Her CV maybe found
Key Question: What can be done to maximize
the chances that humans will benefit from, rather than be harmed by, new
Goal: Greater definition, clarity, and
ethical consideration by examining important issues and identifying
questions for future study, including:
ethical standards by which to judge "improvement of
the human condition"
how posthumans or superintelligent machines would treat
humans who aren’t augmented. How
humans will treat these beings. How
other sentient and non-sentient creatures will/should be treated.
the human place in the universe, with respect to with
human-animal, human-machine, human-alien life forms, human-cyborg
what it means to be human, transhuman, posthuman
what values should be incorporated into future artificial
what happens to one's identity when drugs, devices,
genetic, and nanotechnological interventions are used
what choices are possible and how might new developments
and new policies be influenced
future scenarios of humankind: ethics, policy, and
ethical issues in medical and health informatics
bioethical themes in literature and film
humanoids in fact and imagination
studies of human relationships with machines
philosophy and intelligence
transhumanism: its history, current status, and future
the idea of "human"
science, technology, and utopian/apocalyptic visions
technology and the changing nature of warfare
social studies of science and technology
the improvability of individuals and society through
science and technology
the debate about technological determinism and its
implications for policy
individual vs societal vs global levels of decision making
morphological freedom, i.e., one's freedom over one's body
how rights, legal theory, and policy can take account of
new scientific and technological developments
whether current principles apply to micro-scale and
macro-scale intelligences and life forms, potential beings, and
constituents of such beings
moral status and decision-making power of artificial
intelligences and beings
the role of a physical body in identity and intelligence
Superintelligence: whether, when,
how, and why
potential and policy issues
The “singularity” hypothesis
Transparency vs. Privacy
Pharmaceutical enrichment of emotions?
Computers and Humanity
Dystopias and critiques of progress or automation
The Transhumanist view
Sherry Turkle, MIT: Computers and the Human Spirit
Kenneth Goodman, University of Miami: Ethical Issues in Medical
Robin Hanson, George Mason State University: Economics and Polymath
Vernor Vinge, California State University: Science Fiction, Mathematics
Vincent Brannigan, University of Maryland: Technology and New Legal Rights
Marge Piercy, author and poet: Golems, Artificial Intelligence, and
D. Allan Bromley, Yale University: Science, Technology, and Policy
Yale University, cyborgs and feminist theory
Hebrew University: The
Golem and Jewish traditions on the artificial anthropoid
whether, when, how, and why
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- Ray Kurzweil, 2000. The Age of Spiritual
- Eliezer Yudkowsky, 2001. "Creating Friendly
*Nanotechnology: technological potential and policy issues
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- R. Merkle, 1994. “The Molecular Repair of the
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*The “singularity” hypothesis
- Vernor Vinge, 1993. "The Coming
Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era".
Whole Earth Review, Winter issue. http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/singularity.html
- Robin Hanson (ed.), "A Critical Discussion
of Vinge's Singularity Concept" http://www.extropy.org/eo/articles/vi.html
- Nick Bostrom, 2001. "Existential Risks:
Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related Hazards" http://www.nickbostrom.com/existential/risks.html
- Bill Joy. 2000. Why the future doesn't need us.
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coming era of nanotechnology. New York: Doubleday. The chapter
“Engines of Destruction” http://www.foresight.org/EOC/
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- CIA Report, 2000. Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue
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*Transparency vs. Privacy
- David Brin, 1998. The Transparent Society.
- Arthur Kantrowitz, 1989. “The Weapon of
Openness.” Foresight Background, No. 4. http://www.foresight.org/Updates/Background4.html
*Pharmaceutical enrichment of emotions
- David Pearce, "The Hedonistic
- Merritt Roe Smith and Leo Marx, eds., 1994.
Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological
Determinism. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.
- Robert Ettinger,
1964. "The Prospect of Immortality". Doubleday, New
- James Hughes, 2001. The Future of Death: Cryonics
and the Telos of Liberal Individualism. Journal of Evolution and
Technology, vol. 6. http://www.transhumanist.com/archive.html#6
- Nick Bostrom Against Aging. Script for Heart of
the Matter, BBC 1 Television, 5/3/00. http://www.nickbostrom.com/aging/aging.html
- Robin Hanson, "The Great Filter".
*Computers and Humanity
- Sherry Turkle, 1984.
The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit. Simon &
Schuster, New York.
- Joseph Weizenbaum, 1976. Computer Power and Human
Reason. WH Freeman, San
*Dystopias and critiques of progress or automation
- Aldous Huxley, 1932. Brave New World
- David Pearce, 1998. “Brave New World? A Defense
of Paradise Engineering”. http://www.huxley.net/.
- James Lehman, 2001. “On Becoming Redundant or
What Computers Shouldn’t Do”. Journal of Applied Ethics, Vol. 18,
- Mary Shelly, 1831. Frankenstein. http://www.georgetown.edu/irvinemj/english016/franken/franken.htm
- Harry Braverman, 1974. Labor and Monopoly
Capital. NY: Monthly Review
- Paul Attewell, 1987. "The deskilling
controversy. Work and
- Rob Kling and Suzanne Iacono, 1988. “The
mobilization of support for
computerization: the role of computerization
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- Karl Čapek, 1921. Rossum’s Universal
- Jack Williamson, 1947. “With Folded Hands”.
Astounding Science Fiction, Vol. XXXIX, No. 5, July
- Robert Nozick , 1974. On ‘The experience
machine’ In Anarchy, State and Utopia, pp. 42-43.
- Robin Hanson, 1995. "Could gambling save
science?" Social Epistemology, 9:1, pp. 3-33. http://hanson.gmu.edu/gamble.html
*The Transhumanist view
- Nick Bostrom (ed.), 1999. "The Transhumanist
- Nick Bostrom, 2002. “Towards transhumanist
- Robert Ettinger, 1972. Man Into Superman. http://www.cryonics.org/contents2.html